Only Lee Evans has become a fixture in Sheffield United’s starting eleven but Chris Wilder is convinced all three of his permanent signings during the January transfer window will prove excellent additions.
Ricky Holmes and Ryan Leonard, who also joined the former Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder at Bramall Lane three months ago, have found first team football more difficult to come by since moving to South Yorkshire.
However, speaking ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Birmingham City, Wilder explained why it was imperative United signed both and insisted their presence forms part of a strategy designed to deliver success over the short, medium and long term.
“All of them, Evo included, will keep on improving and they bring greater competition,” he said. “They’ve all done well, they’re all contributing in different ways at the moment but they’ll also all really benefit from a pre-season here with us.
“That, pre-season, is when you really bed down your tactical knowledge and get to know how everything works. That’s when you can really work on your partnerships and put the building blocks in place. When you come midway through (a season), it’s not impossible but it does make it a lot more difficult to do that.”
Evans is expected to make his 17th appearance for United at St Andrews; one more than both Leonard and Holmes combined. Although that has inevitably prompted questions about their roles moving forward, Leonard and Holmes both possess qualities Wilder believes will prove crucial in the not so distant future. Irrespective, given that United travel to the Midlands only three points behind the play-off positions, of the division they find themselves in next season.
Leonard, previously of Plymouth and Southend, is known to have impressed coaching staff with his unflappable demeanour, tactical acumen and willingness to adapt. Holmes, meanwhile, is seen as capable of increasing United’s goal return from deeper lying areas. With Billy Sharp and Leon Clarke responsible for scoring over half of United’s efforts in the Championship, Wilder has identified this as an area where United can and must improve.
“The focus is obviously all on the here and now,” he admitted. “It has to be because of the situation we’ve done so well to put ourselves in. But I also know that all of these lads will get better the longer they spend with us because, not only are they made of the right stuff, but because they are intelligent players.”
“The other thing is the fitness,” Wilder added. “You can’t overlook that. It’s not that they didn’t come here in good shape, because they’re obviously all fit lads, but different ways of playing, different styles, demand different types of fitness. Again, pre-season is where you really put that in place.”